This article first appeared as a meditation in the December 15, 1992 issue of the Standard Bearer and was written by Rev. C. Hanko.
Zion Delivered of a Man Child
Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.
A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord rendering recompense to his enemies.
Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children.
Christmas is the first of the series of Christian holidays. Soon after Christmas follows Good Friday and then, in rapid succession, Resurrection Sunday, Ascension Day, and Pentecost Sunday.
One follows the other as cause and effect, the birth of Christ, His death on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy, Spirit on Pentecost – all of which reaches its climax in the return of Christ with the clouds and the multitude before the throne in the new creation.
The prophet Isaiah saw all this in prophetic vision long before it happened.
He stands, as it were, in the midst of the Jews after they had returned from captivity. He recognizes leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah. He sees such prophets as Zechariah and Malachi. He cannot fail to recognize many believers who are of a contrite heart and a broken spirit, who tremble in fear and reverence as they await the fulfillment of the promise of the birth of the Savior. Among them are Zacharias and Elisabeth, Simeon and Anna, the Shepherds, as also Joseph and Mary.
On the other hand, he hears the sneers of those who are content in their self-righteousness who have no need for a Savior. He shudders at the cold unbelief of the Sadducees, who were among the rulers of that day.
His vision serves for the comfort, the peace and joy of the believers who eagerly awaited the coming of their Savior. It is also of comfort and joy to all who await the final coming of the Lord.
A noise like the rumblings of thunder comes from the Holy City, Jerusalem.
More specifically, the noise comes from the temple.
For those who have ears to hear, it is the powerful voice of Jehovah, the Almighty God of all glory.
As the people, filled with amazement, hasten into God’s house, they discover that a woman is sitting there, thankful and rejoicing. She has just given birth to a man child.
But that is not the end of the vision. Before the wondering gaze of these witnesses another child is born, and another, even a large number, a whole nation, ultimately a multitude that is innumerable, like the sands on the seashore.
In holy awe the prophet cries out: “Who has ever heard such a thing? Who has ever seen such things?”
Jehovah is the God of the impossible, who performs wonder upon wonder!
A man child is born.
Zion is His mother.
Zion is the church of the old dispensation, the woman of Revelation 12. Actually, you may include in that all the women of the old dispensation who brought forth children in the hope of the coming of the promised Seed, culminating in Mary.
The vision takes us to the cattle stall in Bethlehem, where Mary brings forth her firstborn Son, wraps Him in swaddling clothes, and lays Him in a manger.
She represents Eve, who centuries before had beheld for the first time the wonder of childbirth, but who also saw in that wonder the ultimate fulfillment in the promised Savior. Many God-fearing women of numerous generations stood between Eve and Mary, all looking forward to the day when this Christ-child should be born.
The very fact that this line had continued throughout all those centuries is a wonder in itself. There were barren women in that line. It is amazing how many. Yet God brought forth, as was the case with Abraham and Sarah, life from the dead.
Centuries had gone by, countless prayers had gone up from those who longed for and awaited His coming.
Finally, in the fullness of time, exactly at the right time according to God’s clock, Jesus is born of Mary the most blessed among women.
“Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.”
This does not mean that Mary gave birth to Jesus without the usual travail. The birth of Jesus from a human point of view was undoubtedly perfectly normal, like the birth of any child.
The prophet is not speaking of Mary, but of Zion, the church of the old dispensation that brought forth the Savior. It is the voice of the Lord which speaks and creates. The same voice that in the beginning called the things that were not as though they were now speaks again. The same voice that governs and controls all creation performs the greatest wonder of all in Bethlehem.
Before the pain, before the travail, this Wonder-child is born. His birth is entirely unique, since Mary’s firstborn is also the Firstborn of God.
At the annunciation the angel Gabriel had assured Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
We stand at that manger in fear and reverence. For God lies there in all the weakness of mere flesh, flesh of our flesh, the Holy One born from the unholy, Immanuel, God with us!
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
But that is only the beginning of the wonder that is observed in the vision.
Isaiah sees the Jews standing in rapt wonder as more children are born. Not twins, not triplets, but “as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children.” A nation, the church of the new dispensation is born.
The birth of Jesus is but the beginning of a whole series of wonders that follow one upon another in rapid succession.
Although four thousand years had elapsed since the mother promise had come to Adam and Eve in paradise, although the believers in the dispensation of shadows grew weary as their cry went up to heaven, “Rise, help and redeem us, Thy mercy we trust,” now when the fullness of time is come all things happen within a short period of time. Thirty-three years elapse between Christ’s birth and the cross, but, soon after, Jesus arises from the dead, forty days later He ascends to heaven, and ten days later the Spirit is poured out on Pentecost, when the small group of 120 is increased by three thousand converts.
These were the firstfruits of the harvest that is being gathered in day by day. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Must not the Christ have suffered all these things to attain His glory?
How necessary it was for our salvation that the Son of God come in deepest humility, born in poverty and shame, in order to take upon His mighty shoulders the entire burden of our sin and guilt, and to bear it away even into the depths of hell. Only as Son of God in our flesh could He conquer Satan, sin, death, and hell, arise from the dead on the third day, and triumphantly enter into heaven to take His place in power next to the throne. He died for us, and now He lives for us. He gathers His church, even unto the day of His coming.
The culmination is reached when we are united with Him before the throne. Yea, when He makes all things new.
Yet unbelief sneers.
Already in the old dispensation the unbelievers in Israel mocked at the coming of the Lord. Sneeringly they said, “Let the Lord be glorified.” “It can’t happen!”
When Jesus came unto His own, His own people did not receive Him.
Soon after Jesus’ birth, Herod devised plans to kill Him, so that His parents were compelled to flee with the Babe to Egypt. All through His earthly ministry He was despised, rejected, and finally cast out as a criminal, worthy only of death.
But the word of the Lord to Isaiah stood firm, “He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.”
His coming is not all joy – that is, not for His enemies.
Malachi had already spoken of that: “And who shall abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? he shall be like a refiner’s fire, and like a fuller’s soap.”
The coming of Christ is “a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to his enemies.”
Unbelief deliberately denies the virgin birth and salvation by grace through the cross of Jesus Christ.
The unbeliever does just that today. He loses himself in tissue paper trimmings, commercializing and feasting to drown out and deny the very significance of the Christian holiday, to reject once more the Christ of God.
He proves that God is just in His condemnation.
But the Christ is come to your joy.
We go to Bethlehem to hear once more the glad tidings of the angel: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
We bow in worship before that Babe with the confession, “My Savior, my Lord!”
For we see beyond the manger the cross, the empty tomb, the ascended Lord. We now see Jesus crowned with glory and honor, preparing Himself for His return in the day of our final glorification.
He is the Wonder of God, of the God of our salvation!
O come, let us adore Him, the Wonder of all wonders!
Rev. Cornelius Hanko was born to Herman and Jennie (nee Burmania) Hanko on May 19, 1907 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his heartfelt desire when the Lord in His mercy took him to glory on Monday, March 14, in the year of our Lord 2005.
Rev. Hanko was baptized in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. During the common grace controversy in the 1920s the Hanko family followed Rev. Herman Hoeksema and the majority of the consistory of Eastern Avenue in their polemic against common grace and their advocacy of one, sovereign grace of God for the elect in Christ Jesus. The Hankos thus became charter members of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan when the Eastern Avenue Protesting Christian Reformed Church, her pastor and consistory, were cast out of the CRC in 1926. Rev. Hanko, therefore, was the last of the PRC clergy (and perhaps of the entire membership of the PRC) to have had direct, personal contact with the events of 1924–1926 that led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Already in his teenage years Rev. Hanko had his eye on the ministry. His first inclination was to be a missionary. That never happened, because the Lord called him to the pastoral ministry for his entire career. Rev. Hanko began his studies for the ministry under Revs. H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema, and G. M. Ophoff. He graduated from the seminary in 1929 with five other men (four of whom left the PRC in the split of 1953 and one of whom left the PRC in the early 1960s. All five of these eventually became ministers in the CRC).
After graduation from the seminary Rev. Hanko and his bride Jennie (nee Griffioen) made their way to Hull, Iowa PRC, in which church Rev. Hanko was ordained a minister of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC. God blessed Rev. and Mrs. Hanko with four children, all of whom are members of the PRC: Rev. Herman C. (married to Wilma Knoper), Professor Emeritus of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary; Fred (married to Ruth Miersma), who gave his working life to the Protestant Reformed Christian Schools (Adams Street in Grand Rapids, where he was my ninth grade teacher, Northwest Iowa in Doon, where he taught with my wife, and Hope, Walker, Michigan); Elaine, widow of Richard Bos; and Alice, who cared for her father in his later years.
In addition to the Hull PRC, Rev. and Mrs. Hanko served in the following Protestant Reformed Churches: Oaklawn, Illinois (1935); Manhattan, Montana (1945); First, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1948); Hope, Redlands, California (1964); and Hudsonville, Michigan (1971). After becoming emeritus in 1977, Rev. Hanko remained active for a number of years, preaching and teaching in the churches and preaching two services per Sunday in Florida during the winter seasons.
His years in First Church were difficult ones for Rev. Hanko because of the controversy that resulted in the split in First and in the denomination in June of 1953. The controversy involved the doctrine of the covenant. The majority of the congregation of First and of the members and clergy of the denomination embraced the covenant view of Dr. Klaas Schilder (conceiving of the essence of the covenant as consisting of a conditional promise made by God to every baptized child). These left our churches. During these years, while never compromising the truth of an unconditional covenant of grace and friendship established unilaterally by God with His elect in Christ Jesus, Rev. Hanko never lost a certain healthy balance in his preaching and teaching in First Church. He simply did his work by the grace of God, preaching, teaching, and caring for the flock of God as best he was able.
During his years in First Church, which numbered more than five hundred families before the split in 1953 and ca. 200 families after the split, Rev. Hanko had my father as one of his co-laborers in the consistory. They became good friends. The Hankos and the Deckers regularly visited together. It was through this contact that I got to know Rev. Hanko on a personal basis. It was during Rev. Hanko’s years as pastor of First that I was a student at Calvin College, then located on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids just a short block away from the parsonage occupied by the Hankos. Not infrequently, I would walk from class at Calvin to the parsonage with my questions. Rev. Hanko patiently answered these questions from Scripture and the confessions and would then offer prayer. Rev. Hanko was used by God, together with my parents to keep me in the PRC as a member and later as one of the churches’ pastors. I also had the blessed privilege after October 1, 1965, the date of my ordination as pastor of the Doon, Iowa congregation, to labor for a few years with Rev. Hanko as a colleague. We younger pastors in Classis West leaned heavily on our older, experienced, and competent colleague, learning much from his godly example.
During his pastorate in Hudsonville, Michigan the Lord delivered his beloved Jennie from her suffering into glory. I remember sitting with Rev. Hanko in the ICU waiting-room at the hospital, when he remarked, “Part of me is dying in there.” Now Rev. Hanko, having died in the Lord, enjoys God’s fellowship in Jesus in glory as well.
We thank God for giving our churches this gifted and faithful servant and for using him for the edification of the churches for the years of his lengthy ministry among our Protestant Reformed Churches. That in the years to come these churches may follow the example of our beloved brother, Cornelius Hanko, and “…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints…” is our fervent prayer (Jude : 3b).
Soli Deo Gloria! (Written by Rev.Gise Van Baren)